Appalachian Panel Discussion
BC students moderated a panel discussion, asking questions of area experts.
April 25, 2012
News media and popular media portrayals of Appalachia, negative perceptions of Appalachians, and education, drug abuse, economics, and crime in the Appalachian region were topics of a panel discussion held April 10 at Bluefield College.
Appalachia in the Media students: Jackie Puglisi, Lydia Freeman, Trey Wilson and Niqko Marshall
Students, faculty, staff, and even members of the community were all present to learn about problems in Appalachia from a panel consisting of Dr. Donna Watson, director of teacher education at BC; Art Mead, assistant director of the Weldon Cooper Center’s S.W. Virginia Office; Dr. Robert Shippey, vice president for academic affairs at BC; Tina R. Borich, clinical director at the Southern Highlands Community Mental Health Center-Princeton Clinic; Dr. Kelly Walls, assistant professor of criminal justice and campus safety coordinator at BC; and Craig Hammond, director of the Bluefield Union Mission.
The panel discussion event was organized by BC’s Appalachia Symposium committee and moderated by BC students Jackie Puglisi, Trey Wilson, Niqko Marshall, and Lydia Freeman as a project for their Appalachia in the Media class, taught by Mimi Merritt, assistant professor of communications and director of student success.
Each person on the panel had experience dealing with one or more of the topics, so it was easy for discussion to get started.
“What is your opinion of the way in which Appalachia and Appalachians are represented in the media?”
That was the first question, and Watson, who taught in McDowell County, W.Va., public schools before teaching in college, had a quick response.
“It’s outrageous and a terrible prejudice,” she said.
Shippey agreed, but added a little more.
“When you go the local Wal-Mart and see the challenges people of the region face with obesity and other issues, sometimes the stereotype is an exaggeration,” said Shippey. “It touches on commonalities that I think are inherent in the region, and so while the stereotype is an exaggeration and an extreme, often times the stereotypes are calling attention to some realities that we probably need to address.”
Shippey added that he believes these issues can be dealt with through health and wellness education.
Quality of education, however, is another issue facing Appalachia, and Watson said it’s affected by parent and student drug use.
“Drugs impact the students,” she said, adding that students whose parents are abusing drugs often don’t get fed, clothed, or bathed, or even a kind word said to them. Watson said the students come to school and react in different ways.
“They either want attention and affection from the teachers, or act bitter, like they don’t want to be there,” said Watson.
Borich talked about the prevalence of two drugs: Opana, the current drug of choice for people in Appalachia, and Lipin.
“Substance use has become somewhat of a sub-culture in itself,” said Borich, who talked about regional substance abuse task force programs that are working to help people with their drug use and abuse.
“In West Virginia, the rate of drug-induced deaths is higher than the national average,” said Borich.
Switching the discussion from drugs to crime, Walls came across a study that showed crime in Appalachia is lower than the national average.
“Things like violent crime increased six percent and property crime increased seven percent during 1980 and 1995,” said Walls. “Law enforcement officers in our area will tell you that 85-90 percent of what they do is directly related to drug abuse--specifically prescription drugs.”
Hammond spoke about the poverty issues in America and Appalachia that link to a number of different things. He said the U.S. Census Bureau recently showed that just two percent of the people who are below the poverty level have a job, have finished high school, and started their families after they got married.
“I think a lot of the folks we see at the mission tend to fit into that category, unfortunately,” said Hammond. “And as it’s been mentioned, drug abuse only exasperates the problem of poverty in our area.”
Shifting gears away from the impact of drugs in Appalachia, Mead discussed demographics and economic development in Appalachia, opening discussion about interstate migration, educational attainment, and inter-jurisdictional collaboration.
“A great irony is that aspirations of “educational attainment” inculcated in the region’s children by their parents have contributed to an outward migration,” said Mead. “This goes directly against the popular misconception about the region which for a lot of outsiders is, ‘Gee they’re a bunch of hicks and they don’t care about education,’” said Mead.
The panel concluded answering questions from the audience, and Dr. Shippey left everyone with a few words of inspiration.
“We’re a region full of problems, but full of promise,” he said.